Choosing to See, to Forgive, and to Be Free 2021-3-14 Fr. Roberto
Homily for 4th Sunday of Lent – Year A
Fr. Roberto Corral, OP
St. Dominic’s Church, Los Angeles, CA
March 14, 2021
Preaching series 4 of 5: “Unbound – Freedom in Christ”
Title: Choosing to See, to Forgive, and to Be Free
Theme: Forgiveness is the freedom that comes from choosing to see others as God sees them.
Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
Ravensbruck was a concentration camp built by the Nazis in 1939 for women and children.
Over 90,000 women and children were killed there during the years of WWII. Many of us cannot even imagine what horror those victims must have endured there during those years.
That is what makes what I am going to read to you so utterly amazing and moving. It is a prayer that was found next to the body of one of those 90,000 victims. This is what the prayer said:
“O Lord, remember not only the men and woman of good will, but also those of ill will.
But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us; instead remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering: our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen.”
Can you believe this? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could ever think these kinds of thoughts, much less write a prayer like this in the midst of that kind of evil and suffering.
But some incredibly holy woman at Ravensbruck did write that seemingly impossible prayer of forgiveness. And the reason she was able to write it was because she was free; yes, she was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, but her heart was free from the bitterness, hatred and the desire for revenge that would have weighed down and bound up the hearts of most people in a situation like that.
Today, on this fourth weekend of our preaching series entitled, “Unbound – Freedom in Christ,”
we are going to talk about the freedom in Christ that can only come to us through forgiveness.
Forgiveness is probably the most difficult teaching of Jesus for us to follow, and it goes hand-in-hand with his other extremely challenging commandment of loving our enemies. Jesus spent a lot of time talking about forgiveness because he knew it was so important and because he knew it was so hard for us human beings to do. We all have someone in our lives whom we find difficult – perhaps even impossible – to forgive, someone who does not deserve to be forgiven.
But, again and again, Jesus commands us to forgive them anyway (e.g., Matthew 6:12, 14-15; 18:21-35; Luke 6:36-38).
Forgiveness is the second key of the Unbound Ministry model. In this key, we come to understand that forgiveness is ultimately a choice, not a feeling, because so often we don’t feel like forgiving, we don’t want to forgive. This means that forgiveness has to come from God’s grace touching that deep place within us where we make difficult choices even when our heart is not in it: our will. We have to choose to forgive, and when we do, we are choosing to be free like the woman who wrote that powerful prayer at Ravensbruck, we are choosing to be free rather than allowing ourselves to be imprisoned in the black hole and negativity of unforgiveness.
I would say that forgiveness also involves another choice: forgiveness is choosing to see rather than choosing to be blind. That is where I think today’s Gospel can speak to us. This Gospel is not simply about Jesus healing a blind man 2,000 years ago. Rather, it is ultimately meant to challenge us today to choose to see rather than to choose the blindness that comes from our prejudices, our pride, our selfishness, or our closedmindedness. And I am using today’s Gospel especially to challenge us to choose to see those who have hurt us as God sees them. Our forgiveness of others begins when we choose to see these people, not as animals or monsters or devils, but as human beings like us; they are imperfect and flawed humans in the same way we are. Then, if we allow it, forgiveness slowly leads us to the next step of seeing them as children of God and as loved by God. That is a huge and difficult step. Just think of someone who has hurt you seriously: can you see that person as a child of God and as someone whom God loves? If you cannot do that, then your forgiveness of them is not yet complete.
So, what I am saying is, when we choose not to forgive others, we choose to be blind. In other words, we choose not to see anything good in them; we choose to see only what they have done to us. We choose to see them only as an awful person who must beg us for forgiveness; we see them as an enemy against whom we must take revenge, who must be made to suffer, who must be humiliated and perhaps who must even be destroyed. One of the reasons Jesus commands us to forgive is because he knows that this blindness of not forgiving has caused and will continue to cause conflict and harm in our families, in our communities, in our churches and in so many places in our world.
As I said earlier, our preaching series is called Unbound – Freedom in Christ. And this Second Key of Forgiveness reminds us that forgiveness truly is freedom in Christ! And this is the main reason Jesus commands us to forgive: he wants us to be free. Forgiveness is the only way we will be free from the prison and the poison of anger, bitterness and even hatred that can fill our hearts and minds and even make our bodies sick. Forgiveness is the only way that we will find wholeness and healing from the wounds we receive in our lives.
One of the things that helps us to forgive is to realize how much we have been forgiven by the Lord. In other words, forgiveness flows into us from Jesus on the cross before it flows out from us to others. Receiving forgiveness through Jesus unlocks the power for us to forgive;
on the contrary, choosing unforgiveness blocks God’s love for us and keeps us bound. Another thing that helps us forgive is to remember that it is a process; it can take a long time – weeks, months, even years. The more serious the injury, the more time and effort it will take us to forgive. So don’t give up, just keep praying and ask God to help you.
I have more to say about forgiveness in the Homily Reflection Guide and in my bulletin message today, so please look at them. But now I would like to challenge you to do something this week at home. If there is someone you need to forgive, I invite you to do the following, either by yourself, or better yet, with a prayer partner or someone you trust. First, come before the Lord in prayer; then, at some point, I want you to say out loud: “In the name of Jesus, I forgive ______________(here you mention the person’s name) for ______________ (here you say specifically what the person did to hurt you).” “I forgive _______ for doing _______to me.”
It is really important to say this out loud and to be specific in naming the person and what they did; this is more difficult to do, but it is also more effective. This “homework assignment” is also in your Homily Reflection Guide. Try it out and see what happens.
My brothers and sisters, just as Jesus did the impossible in today’s Gospel by healing a man who was blind from birth, and just as Jesus enabled a woman at Ravensbruck concentration camp to do the impossible and forgive her Nazi torturers and killers, so Jesus can do the impossible and help you to forgive someone who has hurt you deeply. Choosing forgiveness is choosing to see as God sees. Choosing forgiveness is choosing to be free in Christ.
Once again, I would like to lead you through a prayer from Neal Lozano’s book to help you take this important step of receiving Jesus’ forgiveness and then giving it to others. Please stand, if you can and if you choose to. If you would like to close your eyes and open up your hands palms up like this, feel free to do so. Now, please repeat after me:
Jesus, You died for me // so that I could be forgiven // and the door to reconciliation // with the Father // would be opened. // You revealed Your love for me // while I was still in sin. //
You gave Your life // as a holy sacrifice for me.// Give me the courage to forgive// and the faith to trust // that what You have given me// I can give to others.// Amen.
As always, I invite you to let those words you have spoken sink into your heart for a few moments…
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